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Industrial Hemp is Legal in Iowa but Farmers Can’t Plant Yet

DES MOINES, Iowa --With a stroke of her pen Governor Reynolds cleared the way for Iowa farmers to beginning growing industrial hemp. Before anyone puts seeds in the ground, though, the USDA needs to finish a federal rule making session which will establish the guidelines each state's hemp program must follow. State Entomologist Robin Pruisner oversees Iowa's budding hemp program and says that process is supposed to be done by the end of the year.

“That's a big question right now. When USDA says the rules are going to be done at the end of the year do they mean October? Do they mean December 31? Right now, we are completely at their discretion and their speed,” said Pruisner.

When the process finishes up, each state must then submit their plan for approval.

“Once our state plan is hopefully accepted, we'll start a licensing plan here in the state of Iowa,” said Pruisner.

Farmers will have to pay a licensing fee, pass a background check, and submit a planting report before they can plant. Before farmers can even harvest their crop, they'll have to get a sample tested to make sure the hemp contains less than .3% THC. All of this is supposed to be in place for farmers to start planting by the 2020 season. Pruisner says they're already chomping at the bit.

“The phone calls have been pretty crazy honestly for about a year. I'm getting about a dozen phone calls a day. I can’t answer them fast enough. Many people want me to change the law, which, I can’t do,” she said.

Pruisner says most of her calls are coming from out of state producers. ISU Field Agronomist Angie Rieck-Hinz says for instate farmers, it may be a mixed bag.

“There are people who are anxious to get started growing hemp, there are people who want to see more market opportunities developed and more research before they jump in, so I think we're all over the board on where people want to be,” said Riesck-Hinz.

Another potential hang up, hemp research in Iowa on best growing and harvesting practices is limited because it's been outlawed for years.

“The conversation is really starting to happen at the university on what kind of research might be needed. That not only goes from a growing perspective but we also need to look at is there the potential to develop markets is there a potential to develop processing,” said Rieck-Hinz.

Riesck-Hinz says luckily, other states and countries have been growing hemp for years, and research won’t be starting from scratch.

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